Survey for equine herpesviruses in polar bears (URSUS maritimus) and exotic equids housed in us AZA institutions

John A. Flanders, Raymund F. Wack, Nicola Pusterla, Samantha M. Mapes, Darin Collins, Kathryn C. Gamble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Infection by equine herpesvirus (EHV) strains (EHV-1, EHV-9) in ursid species, including polar bears (Ursus maritimus), has been associated with neurological disease and death. A serosurvey of captive exotic equid and polar bear populations in US Association of Zoos and Aquaria institutions was performed to determine the prevalence of EHV strains using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) tests. Equid species surveyed included zebra (Equus spp.), Przewalski's wild horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), Persian onager (Equus hemionus), and Somali wild ass (Equus africanus somaliensis). A questionnaire regarding husbandry and medical variables was distributed to institutions housing polar bears. No polar bears tested positive for EHVs on qPCR of blood or nasal swabs. No exotic equids tested positive for EHVs on qPCR of blood, but two exotic equids (n = 2/22; 9%) tested positive for EHVs on qPCR of nasal swabs. On ELISA, polar bears infrequently were positive for EHV-1 (n = 5/38; 13%). Exotic equids were positive for EHV-4 on ELISA more frequently (n = 30/43; 70%) than for EHV-1 (n = 8/43; 19%). Nine institutions submitted samples from both exotic equids and polar bears, two of which had both exotic equids and polar bears positive for EHVs by ELISA. Each of these institutions reported that the polar bear and exotic equid exhibits were within 80 m of each other and that risk factors for fomite transmission between exhibits based on husbandry practices were present. One institution that did not house exotic equids had a polar bear test positive for EHV-1 on ELISA, with no history of exposure to exotic equids. Further testing of captive polar bears and exotic equids is recommended, as is modification of husbandry practices to limit exposure of polar bears to exotic equids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-608
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Equid
  • Equine herpesvirus (EHV)
  • Polar bear
  • QPCR
  • Serology
  • Ursus maritimus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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